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2004-10-07My review: Sandman Presents: Thessaly, Witch For Hire

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Written by Bill Willingham. Art by Shawn McManus. Covers by Tara McPherson.

Been wanting to track this down for a while. Finally scored a copy off eBay for a few pounds. Tried for a copy of The Thessaliad (the miniseries which precedes this one) but the bidding went up close to the cost of a copy of The Sandman Presents: Taller Tales, a trade paperback collection of that and other The Sandman Presents titles. In any case, I should begin this review with some background material.

For a brief capsule introduction, I'll turn you over to The Sandman Companion:

Thessaly (a pseudonym) is a pragmatic, ruthless witch who's at least three thousand years old, and was one of the Thessalian witches of ancient Greece.

Thessaly first appears in comics in Neil Gaiman's opus, The Sandman, in the "A Game Of You" story arc. Gaiman had noticed a trend in modern pagan circles to reinvent witchcraft as a post-feminist statement, minus the bloody history, and Thess personifies the bloody history. She's a character with a great deal of charm who, if real, you'd nevertheless go to great lengths to keep a long, safe distance from. Issue 1 coverThough far from wantonly violent, Thessaly has survived the millennia by revenging herself with lethal consequence upon anyone who tries to harm her. And in many ways—such as personal honour, sense of humour and being of a solitary nature—she's more on the same wavelength as Morpheus than those of others around her.

This doesn't prevent her from treating people (and other things) with a degree of care and consideration. Or having a penchant for big glasses, bunny slippers, and tea. For the most part, the practically immortal witch keeps herself to herself and travels and studies.

That should be enough for you to follow the rest of the review. I'll aim to give a fair overview without spoiling things too much. If you're the type who's easily spoiled, you can have my summary now: yes, this is worth reading.Issue 2 cover

Delivered over four issues, we get an issue for general setup, one for more specific setup, a quest and then resolution. As always, the formula (which Willingham recognises in the title of the third issue, "Something The Cat Dragged In .or. An Even Bigger Quest Than In The Last Story") is less important than the details.

Issue one ("My Girl .or. Far Too Much About Snakes") reintroduces us to Fetch, a ghost featured in The Thessaliad, features a battle with a naga, and Thess discovers why thirty or so vicious monsters have been bothering her over the previous two years.

Issue two ("Ghostraker .or. The Importance Of Well-Hidden Jars") sees the pair tracking down Pete the Effrit, a genie who's been eating far too many people. We learn a few things about Fetch,Issue 3 cover and Thessaly discovers that her ghostly admirer has inadvertently set a Tharmic Null on her tail.

In issue three we follow the witch on a grand tour, seeking answers and power with which to fight the thing. This takes her to what D&Ders would probably shorthand as 'the planes', calling in favours and even trespassing in the library of the Dreaming. (I should possibly note here that Thess enjoyed a discreet relationship with Dream in the background of the Sandman series.)

Issue four ("The Last Full Measure .or. What Are All These Dead Guys Doing In My Living Room?") is showdown time. Fetch thinks he has a plan to save his love, but Thessaly isn't sure it will succeed. She duly rather cordially frees some of her servitors and monsters she's held captive for centuries—on the magically-binding promises that they make themselves less of nuisances. She returns home. Then, there's a further tying-up of loose ends.

What? You thought I was going to tell you what happens? You can't guess? Aw. ;)Issue 4 cover

Everything about this story is polished. McManus's art offers character without over-exaggeration; I was reminded of John McCrea's work on Jenny Sparks: A Secret History Of The Authority, though Witch For Hire generally has a more subtle palette. Fans of the wide range of art styles on The Sandman won't be disappointed either—this is from the modern and clean school of things.

Willingham's script is lively, nicely balanced between dialogue and art, and doesn't suffer from the decompression phenomena afflicting a lot of ongoing modern comic series—each part is rounded in itself, as well as forming part of a greater whole. The premise, that Fetch has come to inject some more active philanthropic purpose into Thessaly's long life, is an interesting one. A particularly nice dialogue touch was the snippeted Italian in the first few pages of the first issue, English printed adjacent—it leads into the rest of the narration and story proper very artfully.

Finally, McPherson's covers are a further unifying element, four heavily stylised images which gratifyingly have something to do with the story inside. Random covers are another thing which annoys me about a lot of comics, so this is most welcome.

I don't know what plans DC/Vertigo have to reprint this—though I imagine it'll happen at some stage—but individual issues shouldn't be hard to find as the first came out in April.

Update: the series has been reprinted in durable trade paperback format. Nifty!


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